Vanguard University gets approval for campus master plan, though some Costa Mesa neighbors still object

A rendering shows how the master plan approved by the Costa Mesa Planning Commission on Monday would affect the layout of Vanguard University. The white buildings currently exist; proposed new buildings are shown in blue.
(Courtesy of Vanguard University)

It took multiple public hearings, hours of debate and discussion and even more behind-the-scenes study and revision, but Vanguard University finally won approval for its new campus master plan with a unanimous vote of the Costa Mesa Planning Commission on Monday night.

The commission’s decision — which is final unless appealed to the City Council within seven days — will allow the private Christian university to forge ahead with reshaping its 38-acre campus at 55 Fair Drive to accommodate future enrollment growth.

“Our 30-year campus master plan will continue to grow the university’s academic rank and regional position as a residential liberal-arts college right here in the heart of Costa Mesa,” said Vanguard President Michael Beals.

The master plan outlines 12 separate projects — including adding a four-level parking structure along Newport Boulevard and a 300-bed dormitory building; replacing the gymnasium and science, technology, engineering, math and kinesiology facilities; developing a new learning resource center that would replace the existing library and adding a new multi-disciplinary academic building.

The Planning Commission had previously approved one master plan project: a new student center to replace the existing campus cafe and bookstore. The university broke ground on that effort last week.

University officials say the master plan will allow enrollment to grow from the current 2,098 students to as many as 2,700.

Though the approved plan comprises a dozen different projects, Monday’s hearing focused almost exclusively on one: the relocation of Vanguard’s maintenance and operations facility to the southwest corner of the campus.

That proposal has been a sticking point throughout the review process and has sparked vocal opposition from residents in the nearby Monticello and Newport Landing communities off Vanguard Way.

Monday was no different, as about a dozen people rose to restate their opposition to the proposed facility, which they said would bring disruptive noise, spoil their views and potentially harm their property values.

Vanguard Way, they added, can already be dangerous to navigate, even without the addition of delivery trucks rumbling to and from the maintenance and operations facility. Some likened leaving their homes to playing Frogger, a 1980s video game in which a player moves a frog character across the screen, dodging traffic and other obstacles along the way.

University officials, however, said they made a concerted effort to reduce any potential harmful effects from the facility, including setting it farther from the property line, limiting its height to 22 feet, planting additional landscaping for screening and restricting outside noise-generating work to weekdays between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Those concessions came as little comfort to some residents who claimed Vanguard didn’t seriously consider alternative locations for the facility and instead focused more on finding reasons to justify the chosen site.

Vanguard officials said they did look into other possible locations but eventually determined the original proposal was best because building it elsewhere could result in a loss of parking, problems with on-campus vehicle circulation, or existing facilities being relocated at great expense to the university.

Commissioners said they felt Vanguard had demonstrated good faith in trying to address neighbors’ concerns.

“I think the applicant has done more than their fair share of outreach and worked on this,” said commission Vice Chairman Byron de Arakal. “I understand the residents’ position is, ‘We just don’t want it there,’ and that’s a pretty inflexible position.”

“I don’t know what more we can ask,” Commissioner Carla Navarro Woods agreed. “At the end of the day, it’s a university; I think it’s an essential part of our community. It needs to grow and we need to give them the space to do that.”

As it became clear how the commission was leaning, several residents stood in unison and marched out of City Hall.

Beals said Vanguard will continue to work with nearby residents regarding the maintenance and operations facility.

“We’re going to invest the time and the resources to make it so that the reasonable requests and recommendations of the neighbors will be followed,” he said.

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